I’m a downhill skier to the core, and I get out to hit the slopes of Sunday River as often as I can – an hour of hot laps before a morning meeting, or full days of exploring eight peaks when I’m not working. Sometimes, though, the thought of stuffing my feet into tight ski boots when the wind is howling and the temps are nearing single digits makes me less inclined to hop on a lift. But when the urge to get outside is strong, cross-country skiing offers a different on-snow perspective.
I am a beginner cross-country skier – I grew up with avid Nordic skiing-parents, and they tried to get me into the sport when I was young, but I hated how much I would fall over on flat ground. I am older and wiser now, and thought it was time to give the skinny skis another shot. If you’re thinking about trying cross-country skiing for the first time, here are some of the tips and tricks I learned on a recent day off where my dad joined me at the Bethel Inn, home of the Bethel Village Trails.
I don’t have skis of my own, but luckily Bethel Village Trails has plenty to rent, and their knowledgeable staff helped kit me out.
Here is the basic low-down on Nordic skis:
Two types of skis: Classic & Skate
- If you’re a beginner skier, classic is the way to go. There are different types of skis in the classic category – some for racing, some for touring, some with metal edge – check out this guide here if you want more details.
- Skate skis are for advanced skiers who are familiar with skate skiing technique.
- Your cross-country ski poles will be taller than your downhill poles. They should stand between your armpit and your shoulder. For reference – I had 135cm poles for my cross-country ski day, and my downhill poles are 115cm. I’m 5’4”.
- Most cross-country ski boots run on European sizing – I usually wear a 38 or 39, and I’m a 7.5 in US shoes. These boots don’t need to be extra snug like downhill boots, but they should fit comfortably, because you’ll be moving your feet up and down as you push yourself through the snow.
If you’re not sure what size boot or ski you need, always ask for help! Staff at any Nordic center should be able to help you out.
Go For the Groomers
At Bethel Village Trails, they have miles of cross-country trails, as well as fat biking and snowshoeing. Staff groom many of the trails early in the morning, though some are not. After I’d been all set up, we started down the hill towards the newest beginner trail, called I-95. The trail wanders gently through the woods, with trees that shielded us from the wind and noise of the outside world.
My advice – stick to the groomed trails if you’re just starting out. There are tracks set up for classic skis, so you just follow them all the way down and back. While you might want to adventure further out, the ungroomed trails are a lot bumpier and uneven, and could lead to a lot more falling over.
Skiing on Flat Ground is Still Hard, so Try to Visit on Less Busy Days
By midday, the sun was shining and I was sweating – cross-country skiing is basically running but with skis on your feet. Nevertheless, I was having the best time – I only fell over a few times, and each fall was worth it.
We visited on a Tuesday morning, and only ran into three other skiers the whole day. I recommend going on a weekday to enjoy the solitude of the trails, and to give yourself more room for mistakes while not worrying about getting in others’ way. Also, don’t be afraid to take lots of breaks throughout the day. Bring snacks and water to refuel. Just because you’re skiing on flat ground, doesn’t mean it’s not hard work.
Learn From Others
On our outing, I was grateful to have my dad, a strong skier, by my side. He gave me tips and stood by me when I took a few tumbles. If you don’t have any cross-country skiing-savvy friends or family, Bethel Village Trails offer group lessons on Saturdays. Carter’s XC Center on Intervale Rd also has lessons on Saturday and Sunday by appointment.
If you’re a Sunday River skier looking for a new adventure, I highly suggest checking out the Bethel Village Trails. The staff members are incredibly helpful and it’s the perfect activity for a day off from the slopes.